I know I frightened some of you when I wrote a few weeks ago about "Official Steps." Some of you thought I was fashioning a poorly veiled exit from service in this parish. That was not my intention. I am sorry that I scared any of you.
I did intend to speak openly and honestly about the work we have to do in order to continue and move into the next phase of our lives together. Not only must we meet certain standards we must do so with a kind of vulnerability that I will not manufacture by directly or indirectly threatening to leave. It is just that there are several possibilities we must consider. Choosing one will be in effect saying "no" to the others.
And we know how to say "no." In our sacramental rites, when we are celebrating and blessing a commitment -- be it baptism, marriage, confirmation or ordination -- we make sure the people who are about to say "yes" have a chance to say "no."
For example, when we baptize we ask the candidates "Do you desire to be baptized?" we prepare them to say "I do," but that moment is meant to allow them to say "no" if necessary. (BCP 301)
Once in a parish I was serving we invited a retired priest to join us in baptizing the grandchildren of parents AND grandparents he had baptized in years past, frankly many years. The candidates for this occasion were two brothers, aged 6 and 1.
The retired priest was not able to attend the rehearsal and so we did not fully practice all that would happen in worship on the day of the baptisms. Quite frankly as much as rehearsals help there is always the difference that a full house and fancy clothes will make to a young impressionable mind.
Think stage fright.
So when the time came to baptize these boys the older one was not at all comfortable with this strange old man in a robe that smelled of moth balls in front of a large collection of other strangers.
Since there were parents and godparents sufficient, the elder brother wasn't given the chance to answer any questions before he was being clumsily scooped up and swung toward the substantial marble font.
As the guest priest held the brother his feet were in just the right place to provide all the resistance he needed. So he pushed back on the font and yelled for the whole church to hear, "I don't want to be baptized!"
Thank goodness there were others in position to steady the old priest, but that only allowed him to try again to move this "non-candidate" into a position he did not intend to assume. The boy now more frightened than ever, pushed and shouted a second time, "I don't want to be baptized!"
Well, we were smart enough at that point to stop fighting and we moved to the younger brother who was amazingly fine with all that was happening and went to the font happily and returned to his mother's arms with a great sigh shared throughout the church.
No sooner had that happened than the older brother said "OK, now I want to get baptized."
That was twenty years ago. I hope the older brother is able to present his children for baptism. I also hope he doesn't wait until they are 6 years old.
Making room to consider all the options --- not just "Yes" or "No" -- is what we want. To provide for all the possible answers we must formulate as many of the questions as we can think to ask.
That's what I have invited Rick Crown, Julie Jenkins, Brian Easton and others to help us to do. They will lead us in asking as many as we imagine of the right questions about what God is calling Advent to become and how I need or not to be included in that future.